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  • Writer's pictureNikki Mantell

Hallelujah for back-to-school

It’s as if the premiers of Quebec and Ontario decided to flip a coin: “‘Heads we open up all the schools, but impose a curfew; tails we do the inverse.”

Quebec got ‘heads’ and Ontario ‘tails’. Whether either strategy actually puts a halt to our skyrocketing COVID-19 cases is yet to be seen, but I know I was not the only parent who poured herself a cocktail and shouted “Hallelujah!” when Premier Legault made the much-awaited-but-hugely-surprising announcement that elementary schools would re-open this week.

From the selfish perspective of an exhausted parent, I can’t help but feel like we got the winning toss. When I pulled out my Work-Life Balance Calculator (I’m sure it exists somewhere) and imputed 4 More Weeks of Confinement + Quebec’s Version of Online Learning x 2 Kids + Simultaneously Working a Day Job + Sketchy Internet + My Kids’ Inability to Focus on Anything for More Than 20 Minutes, the result I got was: Closure of my Business and/or Divorce.

And I know it’s pretty much the same for my cohort of working parents with elementary school-aged kids. For those who don’t own a business, their WLB Calculator results spewed out: Unpaid Leave from Work and/or Full Mental Breakdown.

Since parents of elementary school kids can’t leave their kids at home alone, and parental exhaustion forces us into our jammies by 8:30 p.m. anyhow, the curfew represents almost no sacrifice whatsoever for my cohort.

But we do know the curfew impacts local businesses: depanneurs, grocery stores and our ski hills – and we live in “ski country’ with our five resorts, all of which have to re-organize yet again and close early. Still, the Hills fared better than Ontario, whose alpine ski destinations were forced to close completely since Christmas (and boy are they mad over there at Calabogie Peaks).

This pandemic is taking a significant toll on everyone’s mental health, and people need outdoor activities that can be practised in a relatively safe way to stay sane. My family’s on the slopes at least three times a week, so perhaps uttering another “Hallelujah” for the open ski hills is selfish, but I know I’m not alone on that one either.

I also don’t think I’m alone when I say that parents’ sighs of relief are tempered with worry for our teachers, who have the heavy responsibility of teaching our kids and exposing themselves to a full classroom of potential COVID-19 transmitters daily. We need our teachers if we want to keep families’ sanity and our economy from collapsing — and more should be done to help them. If air purifiers can keep a classroom cleaner of the virus, then Legault needs to start buying and installing them.

Masks in the classroom could be made mandatory for all students, not just Grade 5 and up; and school staff should be bumped up on the priority list for vaccinations. We rely heavily on our teachers, more should be done to keep them safe.

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